Equal partners

The EU wants to strengthen its relationship with Africa. The old concepts – donors and recipients, knowledge-bearers and learners – are a thing of the past. Today it is all about a joint vision and new roles.

Friederike Bauer

Africa and Europe are neighbours with a lot in common that can both benefit from greater cooperation. This is why they want to strike a new balance in their relationship, become equal partners and officially underpin their intentions with a new EU-Africa strategy.

A summit involving heads of state and government from both continents at the end of October was meant to provide the framework for this. At least, that was what the German Government had planned for its Presidency of the Council of the EU, but the coronavirus pandemic put a spanner in the works. The summit – and therefore also the agreement – has been postponed to an as yet unspecified date. But the work continues, as Jutta Urpilainen, the European Commissioner responsible, assured us recently in an interview with akzente: ‘We want to keep the momentum going’.

A similar worldview

What this new partnership should look like, what characterises it and what the advantages are for both sides were the focus of a recent GIZ virtual panel discussion entitled ‘Reshaping African-European Relations in Challenging Times’. The Chair of the GIZ Management Board, Tanja Gönner, was joined by the CEO of the African Union development agency AUDA-NEPAD, Dr Ibrahim Mayaki, and the Director-General for International Cooperation and Development at the European Commission, Koen Doens, as well as Dr Melanie Müller from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, who provided a critical academic perspective.

The discussion showed that Africa and Europe are not only geographically close, but also face many similar challenges, ranging from climate change and digitalisation to migration and the coronavirus pandemic. Both sides are trying to solve these challenges through integration and closer transnational cooperation – Europe via the EU and a common market, Africa through the AU, which is in the process of establishing the largest free trade area in the world. ‘We both take a multilateral approach,’ said Koen Doens.

A shared fate

While other countries and world regions are focusing more and more on national interests, the EU and AU are going the other way. ‘This strengthens and binds us,’ agreed Ibrahim Mayaki. But even more than that, he believed that ‘our two fates are linked’. Tanja Gönner also talked about the alignment between Africa and Europe in many areas, which is vital if we are to work together to handle the ambitious agenda covering everything from sustainability to governance. Gönner recognised, however, that there are different interests here and there that need to be addressed through open and transparent dialogue. This is part and parcel of an equal partnership.

The challenge now is therefore to consolidate this special bond with a new kind of partnership and to take multilateral relations beyond each continent – ‘co-creating’, ‘co-producing’ and ‘mixing’ were the keywords that came up time and again. That means working on solutions together and jointly developing long-term strategies from which both sides can benefit – not stepping on each other’s toes or having to wait for an answer from the other partner, but cooperating and showing mutual respect. 

The pandemic – an element of uncertainty

Take for example the topic of renewable energy. Africa has particularly strong potential here. And Europe is also very interested in Africa tapping these sources and rapidly expanding production, as more clean energy will drive development and open up prospects for people in Africa. And because Africa may one day be able to export electricity to Europe, which has less sun and wind. The same applies to migration, an area in which both sides are in need of rules and solutions, and to the international world order, to which both continents can contribute together as advocates of a strong multilateralist approach.

However, there is one element of uncertainty – the pandemic – and not just in relation to the postponed summit. It remains to be seen how this acute crisis will affect the African-European relationship. This, according to academic Melanie Müller is the greatest unknown. She mentioned two possible scenarios here. Either the social and economic problems caused by COVID-19 could create a widening gap between the two continents. Or Africa and Europe could move closer together and overcome the crisis, in the spirit of the new partnership and as a test of their relationship